Published in InterAction 73, Autumn 2010
The new coalition government is determined to cut back on spending and get people back into work. What does that mean for you?
Proposals affect Incapacity Benefit, Disability Living Allowance, Housing Benefit, Work Capability Assessments and work programmes.
From October, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will begin reassessing the claims of people who are receiving Incapacity Benefit (IB), Income Support paid on the grounds of disability and Severe Disablement Allowance, to see if they are fit for work.
The DWP website says: “People who are capable of work will move onto Jobseeker’s Allowance where they satisfy the conditions of entitlement for that benefit. People who need more support while they prepare for work will get that help on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Those people who are most disabled or terminally ill will not be expected to look for work and will get the extra support they need on ESA.
“We will trial these new processes with 1,700 customers in Burnley and Aberdeen from October 2010. We will then start to reassess people nationally from February 2011. This process will take place over the following three years.
“The change will not affect claims for Attendance Allowance; people who are already being paid Employment and Support Allowance; and people who reach State Pension age before March 2014.”
The DWP website says: “We will write to customers when their (Incapacity Benefit) becomes due for reassessment to tell them about the changes. We will also phone them to answer any questions they may have and find out if they need extra help. They do not need to contact us before they receive this letter.
“Customers will then be sent a medical questionnaire to complete and return and this will be used to decide if they need to attend a Work Capability Assessment. It is important that customers provide as much detail as possible when completing the questionnaire as this will be used to help decide if the customer is entitled to ESA.
“If they need to attend an assessment, the customer will be phoned to arrange an appointment. They will not need to attend an assessment if a decision can be made on the information provided on the medical questionnaire.
“Using the information from the questionnaire, the Work Capability Assessment and any other evidence provided we will then decide if they are entitled to ESA.
“People will continue to receive their current benefit, as long as they meet the conditions of entitlement, until we have reassessed their claim. If a customer does not return their medical questionnaire or attend a Work Capability Assessment when asked, this may affect their benefit.”
The DWP says: “We are not reassessing claims to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as part of this process. However, if someone receives DLA as well as Incapacity Benefit it is possible their DLA claim may be affected if new information comes to light as a result of the reassessment.”
New DLA assessments
The emergency Budget report issued in June says the Government will “introduce the use of objective medical assessments for all DLA claimants from 2013-14 to ensure that payments are only made for as long as a claimant needs them.”
The Treasury aims to save more than a billion pounds a year by reducing DLA claimant numbers. Its Budget’s Costings document says: “Drawing on the evidence of the impact of the Work Capability Assessment, the central assumption for this policy is that it will result in a 20 per cent reduction in caseload and expenditure once fully rolled out.
“It is assumed that existing claimants would be reassessed over three years, with 25 per cent of the caseload reassessed in the first year, 75 per cent by the end of the second year and 100 per cent by the end of the third year.”
It was announced in the Budget that housing benefit rates would be capped from April 2011 at £250 a week for a one-bedroom flat, £290 for a two bed, £340 for a three bed and £400 a week for a four-bedroom property.
It was also announced that from October 2011, Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates will be set at the 30th percentile of local rents as opposed to the median. This means that instead of setting LHA rates at 50 per cent of the current property market rents, they will be set at 30 per cent. It is uncertain whether this will apply to new claimants only or whether people already claiming Housing Benefit will be affected.
Anyone who has been claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance for 12 months will also have their Housing Benefit cut by 10 per cent from April 2013.
On a more positive note for people with severe M.E., some Housing Benefit claimants with a disability and a non-resident carer may be entitled to funding for an extra bedroom.
An independent review, chaired by occupational health expert Professor Malcolm Harrington, will report by the end of the year on whether Work Capability Assessments (WCA), currently used to assess ESA applicants, are fair and transparent.
However, work minister Chris Grayling (pictured) has said that the Government will start using WCA to reassess existing claimants of Incapacity Benefit in the autumn, before Professor Harrington makes his report.
A new single work programme will be introduced in April 2011, replacing all six back-to-work schemes set up by Labour. The Work Focused Health Related Assessment (WFHRA) has already been suspended for two years in preparation for this. The DWP said that suspending WFHRA will “improve the capacity to focus on and cope with the demands of the reassessment of existing Incapacity Benefit customers.”
In a speech to Parliament on 29 June, Chris Grayling said: “As announced in the coalition agreement we will radically simplify the back-to-work system by ending the complexity of the previous decade and replacing current schemes with a new work programme.
“The work programme will provide a coherent package of support for people out of work, regardless of the barriers they face or the benefits they claim. The Government will look to investors from the private, public and voluntary sectors to provide this support.”
Help and advice
Action for M.E.’s Welfare Rights Line offers information and advice to members.
Call 0845 122 8648. Monday 1 to 5pm, Tuesday 9:30am to 12:30pm and 3:15 to 6:45pm, Wednesday 1:30 to 4:30pm, Thursday 9:30am to 1:00pm.
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